Abdusalam Muhemet was detained by the police in China for reciting a verse of the Quran at a funeral. After spending two months in a “re-education institution,” he, along with 30 others were ordered to renounce their past lives and religion. Their crime? Being Muslim.
Currently, thousands of Uighurs Muslims are being detained in a building, spending their days under a psychological and physical indoctrination program, forced to listen to lectures, study communist propaganda, and sing hymns that praise the Chinese government all while every aspect of their lives are monitored. Refusal to comply will often result in torture including waterboarding, or starvation. These tactics only further demonstrate the institutionalized racism and Islamophobia pervading Chinese society. Moreover, thousands of additional Uighur Muslims are being arbitrarily detained, despite having committed no crime.
The Chinese government has been justifying the detainment of inmates by calling the Uighurs “extreme terrorists,” with the crackdown being labelled “deradicalisation.” While this is obvious fear mongering, it also serves to perpetuate the already-harmful and completely inaccurate belief that Islam is an inherently “terroristic” or “dangerous” religion.
This is not the first time the government has attacked this community. Political disenfranchisement and ethnic tensions date back to the 1950s, as migration became popular for Hans Chinese through the Silk Road trading route in Xinjiang. In 2009, the Uighurs protested the treatment they had received the government, with 200 killed and hundreds more injured. As a result, the Chinese authorities began their crackdown, only further escalated after blaming all Muslims for a series of terrorists attacks in 2014.
The Uighurs are forced to currently undergo “re-education” as the government actively attempts to take away their rights, identity, and dignity. While some nations are discussing imposing sanctions on China, other bipartisan groups are lobbying for the release of the Uighur Muslims.
China has signed the UN declaration of human rights, thereby acknowledging that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” and that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” However, China is evidently not complying with this, and unfortunately, these detention centers are only one of many incidents of ethnic persecution, from the oppression of Tibetan monks to Falun Gong practitioners.
While the Chinese government has heavy restrictions on freedom of speech, it is important that we do not ignore the ongoing human rights violations. Signing the UN declaration of human rights should signify not just an acknowledgement, but also a promise of upholding those rights, and that is a promise that has yet to be fulfilled. It’s time we ensure that all religious individuals in China can safely practice their religion and access their basic liberties and human rights.